Vancouver Whitecaps lose: But look at the cute moose!

It was probably fitting that the Vancouver Whitecaps season should end with a whimper of a 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of the Conference semi-final on Wednesday evening.

After all, Carl Robinson’s whole philosophy is based around making his team as tedious to watch as possible and he achieved the zenith of that ambition over these two games.

Although he must have been disappointed to see a half-hearted Christian Bolaños header count as the only shot on goal over the full 180 minutes when the perfect zero was so nearly on the cards.

What’s left to say?

If you don’t try to win games you won’t win games?

If you don’t think a Cascadian derby playoff series is reason to get your team fired up to score then what is?

Bringing on Davies and Shea who haven’t played ten minutes of good football between them in the last two months displayed typically poor in-game management?

A bizarre end to the season which saw the team lose any rhythm and cohesion due to a constant switching of personnel and tactics?

The belief that relying on “fine lines” is the only way to win games?

The lack of belief in players, constantly speaking of them as underdogs and asking them to play a style of football that sucks the life out of their creativity?

The mind numbing limits to any sense of ambition both on the field and off it?

I could go on, but there will be time enough for that and more over the coming weeks when we can consider whether the “fire Robbo” tweets of this evening are the wounded sighs of unhappy creatures or something containing more substance.

For now though it’s on to a Winter of player moves and speculation, which is always fun in itself I guess.

But how we must all wish we were back in the height of Summer, drinking a cold beer in our Whitecaps themed gazebo and dreaming of what might be.

But “what might be” always turns out to be an illusory stop on the road to “what is”.

But oh for a just a few more shots on goal!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-5, de Jong-6*, Waston-5.5, Parker-5.5-Nosa-5.5, Ghazal-6, Techera-4.5, Bolaños-5, Reyna-4, Montero-5 (Harvey-5)

 

Whitecaps hold Seattle to a scoreless draw!

Ha! That will teach all those fair weather fans who thought they’d go to an exciting game of playoff soccer a valuable lesson.

No way they’ll be back again next season and that means shorter lines at the concession stands for the more loyal supporters among us.

Cheers Robbo!

It does sometimes feel as though Carl Robinson has never seen a big game against a Cascadian rival in which he doesn’t want his team to fold up within themselves like an armadillo with anxiety issues and so it proved in the 0-0 tie with the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Sunday evening.

A different coach may have decided to build on the exciting 5-0 win in midweek and a different coach may have decided to make use of the sellout and lively home crowd to send his team out all guns blazing for the first twenty minutes at least in an attempt to turn the home stadium into a cauldron of passionate fervour.

But Robinson isn’t that kind of coach and so we got the safety first approach we have grown to know and tolerate until it soon became painfully clear that neither team was going to take any real risk going forward at all.

Certainly without Reyna or Mezquida on the field Fredy Montero was back to his splendid isolation, staring in wonder at aimless high balls launched in his vague direction from somewhere in the back four.

Tony Tchani once again looked like a man who could walk into an Apple Store without being noticed and Brek Shea played like somebody who had never seen a football until the first whistle blew.

On two separate occasions he was literally knocked over by the ball. I mean, kudos for the much needed comedy interludes but he’s on a DP salary!

And yet for all that ineptitude a goalless draw may not be that bad a result and maybe Robinson was thinking back to the playoff series against Portland two seasons ago when he played for the same result in Portland but then got burned by the away goal back at BC Place?

One good set-piece, one Seattle error and Vancouver are very much in the box seat on Thursday evening.

But it’s just that sometimes it would be nice to have a coach who wasn’t quite so prosaic, wasn’t quite so afraid of letting his players play and wasn’t quite so entangled in the belief that both him and his team are overcoming insurmountable odds in every game.

A coach who wanted his team to rise to the big occasion every once in a while and not suffocate it under the pillow of a crowded midfield.

Of course we long suffering supporters aren’t the ones who really need the sympathy tonight; that should all be directed toward whoever has to put together the twenty-minute highlight package for that game (or even the four-minute highlight package to be honest).

Spare a thought for their souls.

Time for the Soccer Shorts play ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, de Jong-5.5, Waston-5.5, Parker-5.5, Ghazal-5.5*, Tchani-5, Shea-3, Bolaños-5.5, Montero-5.5

 

Two legs good, one leg bad?

So how do we feel about the away goals rule?

Like the penalty shootout it’s one of those quirks of soccer that people often complain about without ever offering up a better alternative.

First introduced in the sixties as a way of mitigating against the difficulty of travel for teams traversing across Europe the influence it has had on games has gradually evolved over the years to the extent that it’s now often the home team who are happy to come away with a scoreless result in the first leg knowing full well that a single goal will carry so much more extra weight in the return.

So a rule designed to persuade visiting teams to attack became a rule that persuaded home teams to defend.

Unintended consequences indeed.

Ironically Major League Soccer is a league in which the away goals rule contains a glimmer of its original purpose given the travel distances involved but equally ironically that doesn’t apply to the upcoming contest between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders at all.

So how does Carl Robinson approach the first leg at BC Place on Sunday afternoon?

I suspect that if you offered him a scoreless draw right now he would take it (although he would probably always take a scoreless draw in any game so that point is somewhat moot).

But the chance to go to Seattle knowing that a single goal (say from, oh I don’t know, a set-piece for example?) would force the Sounders to try for two and thus leave them open to the counterattack must be a thought that sets Robinson salivating like a hungry bulldog in a meat pie factory (a word to the wise though, try to avoid buying a meat pie that has been made in a factory if you can no matter what any hungry bulldog may tell you).

And that same thought must be circling around Brian Schmetzer’s brain like a Vlasov-Poisson equation endlessly traverses the brain of a slightly drunk Math teacher.

For the Sounder’s coach knows that if his team can sneak a goal at BC Place their task in the return leg becomes so much easier, but he also knows that searching too hard for that goal could leave his team open to the counter-attack he most fears.

The thing he most desires is the very thing that could ultimately destroy him (much like a hungry bulldog in a meat pie factory funnily enough).

And that’s what the away goals rule does to you.

It deliberately makes some goals more important than others and thus it makes the hope and fear surrounding those goals the prime movers in the way both teams approach a game.

So expect a cagey opening period on Sunday which could then blend into a cagey ninety minutes if no breakthrough is made because the more the clock ticks the more that first goal increases in value.

It probably won’t be pretty to watch but every cross, shot or attempted through ball will contain within it the tension inherent in the knowledge that it has the power to transform the direction of the game completely (that’s true at all times of course but it just seems so much more dramatic in this context for some reason).

 

Panic on the streets of Seattle

Maybe everybody involved with the Vancouver Whitecaps had started to believe their own publicity?

And maybe that’s understandable given their jump in the in the MLS power rankings and after listening to Wednesday’s pregame show on TSN in which the overall consensus from the pundits seemed to be that Carl Robinson had cleverly crafted the perfect footballing machine designed to function no matter which player started in which position.

Those of us who watch the team week in and week out know otherwise of course. We know that they’re a scrappy team who just got ten points out of the last twelve that could just as easily have been six or seven.

But that’s all water under the bridge now because any nascent delusions of grandeur will hopefully have been severely smashed by the 3-0 mauling handed out to the Whitecaps by the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field.

Robinson once again rang the changes and this time around not a single one of them worked.

Sheanon Williams played like a man who never wanted to see a football again in his life and Christian Bolaños and Bernie Ibini offered nothing going forward from either of the flanks.

Russell Teibert arrived at every interception half a second too late and Tony Tchani seemed unaware that there was a competitive game going on around him.

Fredy Montero hit a good free kick I guess.

And after a manically entertaining first half in which both teams offered at least something the Whitecaps were completely outplayed (out coached?) in the second and the three goal margin was a fair reflection of the Sounders dominance.

The Whitecaps are still top of the Western Conference at least, but it’s not inconceivable that they will lose in Kansas and New York to suddenly find themselves in a battle for fourth place at best come season end.

No need to press the panic button yet (he said with his hand hovering desperately over the panic button) because the return of Ghazal should shore up a midfield that was woefully open in Seattle and none of the players can ever play that badly ever again.

Can they?

The most concerning thing is that the Whitecaps have effectively failed to turn up for the last three Cascadia derbies, putting in lack lustre performances in each.

And a side that can’t perform in the big games isn’t a side that will fare well in the playoffs and neither is it reassuring that the last two decent sides Vancouver have faced (Columbus and Seattle) both worked out ways to open them up through the centre of the park.

Right now Vancouver have just one way of playing and any post-season success could ultimately hinge on whether Carl Robinson has any kind of Plan B up his sleeve at all.

Don’t bet your house on that being the case (or on anything really, it would be madness to bet your house on anything!)

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-5.5, Williams-4, Parker-5, Waston-5.5, Harvey-5, Teibert-5, Tchani-4.5, Bolaños-5, Ibini-5, Reyna-5.5*, Montero-5

 

 

 

 

Whitecaps v Sounders: What did we learn?

The former England striker Gary Lineker was once asked if being a great goal scorer was about being in the right place at the right time.

“No” he replied “it’s about being in the right place all of the time”.

Fredy Montero didn’t do all that much in the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Friday evening but twice he managed to find the right sliver of space to head the ball home from close range.

It’s been too long since the Whitecaps had that kind of player.

The game itself began with a “same old, same old” feeling for the home side as they conceded possession to the visitors and resorted to the kind of aimless long balls from the back that left Montero bereft of both support and hope.

It just seemed to be a matter of time before the quality inherent in the Seattle forward line got the breakthrough.

Then Cristian Techera began to find the space out wide to deliver in a couple of decent crosses and the momentum of the game changed ever so slightly.

Suddenly the Whitecaps hearts and intentions were in the right place and although it was neither pretty nor particularly effective they did at least begin to take the game to their opponents.

The second half began with a sense of openness that was inevitably going to lead to a goal and indeed it did  (See! I told you!) when Bolaños spread the ball wide to Techera who delivered the perfect cross for Montero to head home.

The key to that goal wasn’t just the link play of Bolaños and Techera it was the fact that both Bolaños and Davies were in the box with Montero waiting for the ball to be delivered.

Marking Montero and two others is far harder than marking a solitary Montero and if Vancouver want to continue to get the best out of the Colombian then they need to to give him that kind of quality support on a regular basis.

The other major positives from the evening were the aforementioned link play of Bolaños and Techera (Who may well be on the way to forming an effective triumvirate with Montero) and the play of Parker and Waston who once again looked back to their old selves of two years ago.

There were negatives on display as well of course so let’s dwell on those for a short while.

Neither Laba nor Teibert offered any kind of effective attacking presence from the midfield and that’s just not sustainable over the long term.

And Carl Robinson may have to begin to consider Alphonso Davies as more of an impact substitute than a starting player because the poor kid looked both physically and mentally gassed at about the fifty minute mark.

The biggest concern though was the way the team completely lost their collective heads once Seattle did score and the final four minutes of added time were an exercise in hope over organisation in which hope only won by the merest of margins.

That sense of panic is probably to be expected given the way the team have played of late but it was a reminder of just how quickly this season could still fall spectacularly off the rails.

Still, the Whitecaps now have two consecutive home wins against Western Conference rivals under their belts which at least makes the upcoming four game road trip a less daunting prospect and if Robinson can convince his players (Or, more likely, the other way around) that taking the initiative in games isn’t necessarily the equivalent of signing your own death warrant then there is still a chance the season won’t be the disaster it’s already threatened to be.

Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Williams-6.5, Parker-7.5*, Waston-7.5, Harvey-6, Teibert-6, Laba-6, Techera-7, Davies-6, Bolaños-7, Montero-6.5 (Mezquida-6)

 

 

 

 

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Is this a Winter of Discontent for fans of the Whitecaps?

More like a winter holding their heads in their hands and hoping the world would go away I suspect but sooner or later we all have to dive into the freezing cold pool of reality whether we have lanolin covering our bodies or not.

So let’s at least dip our toes into the icy pool of these two subjects.

What does the MLS Cup Final mean?- Well apart from it meaning hell on earth for the Whitecaps that is.

Is two of the higher spending clubs making it to the final indicative of a sea change for MLS as a whole or is it a single event signifying nothing?

Nothing of any import can ever be gleaned from one isolated incident of course but this does at least feel different in a large part because of the influence of two players.

Neither Giovinco nor Lodeiro have the name power to get MLS apostates buying tickets or changing channels but they do have the ability to win games for their respective teams and the initial moves by expansion team Atlanta United indicate that they too are spending money on “difference makers” rather than marquee names.

If Toronto have learned anything from this season (and it’s Toronto so it’s entirely possible that they won’t) it’s that the best way to insert a team into the wider consciousness of the public is to win games on the field.

If enough other teams around the league learn the same lesson then the arms race of spending may switch into something far more ruthless than mere marketing ploys.

And their rivals suddenly start to acquire players with a proven record in proven leagues then hoping to unearth hidden gems from the coal dust of lesser competitions will prove to be more and more risky for the Whitecaps.

Hurtado stays while others leaves- Official farewells have now been given to Morales, Perez, Aird, Smith and Carducci and enough has been said about all of them with perhaps the exception of Marco Carducci.

A talented goalkeeper who never really looked ready for the step up to MLS and one who fell behind in the pecking order to the more accomplished looking Spencer Richey but Carducci could well find a role in the up and coming Canadian Premier League.

The signing of Hurtado won’t get any pulses racing but he is what he is; a useful MLS depth player.

His failings last season were as much about the failings of others as they were his own. Kudo struggled, Perez couldn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) play on a regular basis and Rivero was away before summer ever really set in.

It may be harsh to say that asking Hurtado to lead the line on a regular basis is setting him up to fail but it is certainly asking more of him than he is capable of and there comes a time when a coach’s willingness to believe in a player slips over into bad man management.

I think that’s where we were with Hurtado last season but hopefully 2017 sees him playing the role to which he is best suited; a late impact substitute and a starter in a few of those games against Eastern Conference teams where the main striker(s) need(s) a rest.

For now though let’s forget all that and just try to get through this Final safe in the knowledge that the 2017 schedule, the signings and some actual games of football aren’t all that too far behind.

 

A fitting end to a fitful season for the Whitecaps

It was fitting that the Vancouver Whitecaps shambolic season ended in a game which featured two red cards, two penalty kicks, some dubious refereeing decisions and a finale which found the home team adopting chaos theory as a form of tactical approach.

Carl Robinson may be fond of arguing that “formations don’t matter” but this was taking things to the nth degree.

The game ended with a 2-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders meaning that Vancouver are finally and officially eliminated from the playoff picture and that their current home record is an astonishingly bad five wins, five losses and six ties.

Five home wins in an MLS season is one way to guarantee a terrible year and the Whitecaps have nothing left to play for in their remaining two games other than the pride that too few of them have shown throughout the season thus far.

The game actually began quite well for Vancouver as a nice piece of play from Alphonso Davies resulted in a penalty kick which Pedro Morales slotted home with ease.

So this would be the perfect opportunity to go ahead and try to finish off a Sounders team who were missing both Dempsey and Lodeiro right?

On the contrary.

The Whitecaps immediately lost all interest in attacking and sat back to allow the visitors to find a foothold in the game, which they did through an Ossie Alonso goal in the thirty-ninth minute.

For the rest of the half the Whitecaps suddenly woke up again but when Jordan Harvey spurned a great chance to restore the lead just before the break the omens weren’t good.

It’s hard to know if their reluctance to press on after taking the lead is down to the players on the field or the instructions off it but, whatever the reason, it’s a flaw that desperately needs to be remedied next season.

The Whitecaps began the second half in their characteristically lethargic style and the game only really came back to life once Pedro Morales was red carded for an “elbow” in the fifty-third minute.

I say “elbow” because it was the kind of challenge that would have been a yellow card (at most) in a CONCACAF game, but the Captain has been around the league long enough to know how MLS refs operate so he probably has less cause to complain than it initially seemed.

Even down to ten men the Whitecaps weren’t that troubled by a prosaic Seattle side but a hard hit cross hit Jordan Harvey on the hand and the subsequent penalty-kick was dispatched to drive the final nail into the Whitecaps playoff coffin.

To be fair to Robinson he did throw all hands on deck at this stage (too little too late?) as he moved to three at the back but by now the game more resembled a pick up game in a local park than it did any kind of professional display.

It’s tempting to say that this was the latest in a long line of disappointing performances from this Vancouver team but the time for disappointments has passed.

We can no longer be disappointed because this is exactly who they are; a group of players who collectively just aren’t good enough for Major League Soccer.

Big changes are needed in the next few months.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Ousted-6, Smith-6, Edgar-6-, Parker-5, Harvey-5, Laba-6, Morales-5, Bolaños-6, Davies-6*, Hurtado 5, Barnes-4